May 5, 2003

Louisiana courts go with Linux

- by Anne Zieger -

While open source technology hasn't exactly conquered state governments everywhere, it's begun to make inroads in quite a few, including Iowa, Utah, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. Now Louisiana is jumping on the open source bandwagon, too.

Rhode Island, for example, recently built out a portal serving up state rules and regulations on open source technology, using Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Perl/Python. The state's IT department spent $40K to build the portal, working two days a week for four months to get the job done.

One of the latest government installations based on open source tools is being developed in Louisiana, on behalf of the state's court system. In Louisiana's Nineteenth Judicial District Court, developers are building a new database application over Linux that offers police, judges and the public real-time access to judicial records.

Starting with RedHat Advanced Servers as a foundation, the Court is implementing Oracle9i Database with Real Application Clusters and the Oracle 9i Application Server to archive court data online. The system will run on a four-node cluster comprised of Dell PowerEdge 6650 servers, each with four Intel 2.0 Ghz Xeon processors, and the Dell EMC CX400 SAN storage system.

The Oracle database, which is consolidating several smaller data stores, will consolidate applications for case management, jury management and drug-court case management. Another application, from ACS Judicial Solutions, will centrally manage the court schedules, records and documents. Users will be able to access a single, consolidated view of this varied data set via the Internet.

IT managers expect the system to handle a heavy load -- and that's one of the main reasons they're choosing a Linux-based system, says Freddie Manint, Court Justice Information Systems Director with the District. "This solution is going to drive hundreds of concurrent connections between law enforcement agencies, plus thousand of concurrent connections from the public side of the architecture," Manint says. "We're using Linux so we can have more utilization and more access, better throughput, better kernel scaling and better overall robustness."

Historically, the District's 20 judges have each kept criminal records in their own databases, typically in FoxPro or dBase. These databases aren't connected in any way, so records have to be shared the hard way, via the old-fashioned "sneaker-net."

"They basically have to walk files from section to section," Manint says. "It generates humungous amounts of paper. And there's duplication of data entry, which creates errors."

The new system will consolidate all of the separate databases into one, using the Linux-based Oracle apps as the glue. "Linux brings a lot of powerful coding tools to the table that allow a lot of cohesion," Manint says. "You're not running a lot of DLLs and executable code into the system."

Before going with the Linux/Oracle/Dell solution, Manint and his colleagues spent three years doing research and benchmark testing on various options, looking at hardware platforms, OS/database configuations and security penetration scenarios.

Manint looked into Microsoft solutions, but wasn't happy with what he found, particularly when it came to security. He decided the MS systems appeared too vulnerable to outside attacks. "With [Microsoft] most code has to be generated through interaction and reaction," he says. "That allows for a lot of hacks."

MS technology options also seemed pricey: the contract to support Microsoft database servers alone would have cost the District about $175K a year, he notes. ?This project is millions of dollars as it is,? he says.

When all was said and done, Linux-based systems were far and away a better choice, Manint says. "People are starting to see that while Microsoft is great for word processing and small peer to peer OSes, when you start to scale out and go to advanced enterprise services with security being paramount, MS has several impediments," he says. "What we did was use the right tool for the right job."


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